What you need to know:
- Short-term volunteer opportunities typically last one to six weeks, and are popular with families, small groups, solo travelers.
- Long-term volunteer opportunities can last up to a year (or more!), and are popular with gap year takers, career breakers, and individuals looking to expand their work experience.
When considering a volunteer abroad program, one of the first things you'll want to take into consideration is how much time you're willing and able to give. With this in mind, let's take a look at short- versus long-term service programs--what you can do, where you can go, and what group might be the best fit for your interests and abilities.
Generally,short-term volunteer programs last from one to six weeks. They're great for families, groups (student groups, church groups, etc.), professionals with limited vacation leave, and those who'd just like to try out international volunteering without a significant time commitment.
Because your time abroad is limited, short-term, sustainable volunteer programs won't have you teaching, working with children, or assisting with projects that require a deep understanding of and connection to the individual or community.
Many programs instead offer work in agriculture, trail work--including removal of brush or invasive plant species, GIS mapping, and trail rerouting--research, or construction.
Long-term volunteer programs usually last several months to a year or more. These are perfect for gap year takers, career breakers, students pursuing volunteer abroad for credit, and individuals interested in beefing up their resume, getting some international experience, and trying out a new line of work (or augmenting the work they already do).
Popular options for long-term programs include teaching (children, youth, and adults), business development, agriculture, and community development. Long-term programs allow volunteers to gain an in-depth understanding not only of the work they do, but also of the local culture, and why their project is important to the community. Volunteers are also better able to see the development of their project over the long-term, and even the results of the time and effort given to the program.
- AIDE Abroad: Volunteers work one to six weeks with projects ranging from wildlife rescue, to Amazon rainforest reforestation, to women's empowerment and more throughout Africa and Central and South America.
- Amizade: With placements in Africa, Europe, and North and South America, Amizade's volunteers engage in service-learning initiatives focusing on childcare, education, community development, and health care.
- Appalachian Trail Conservancy: Volunteers repair and reroute paths, remove invasive brush, and clean debris along this 2,175-mile trail in the eastern United States.
- ARCAS: This Guatemalan organization offers volunteers the opportunity to work with environmental conservation and education, protected areas management, reforestation, and sea turtle research and monitoring.
- Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation: Volunteers work in Ecuador to promote preservation and rehabilitation of tropical habitats, conduct scientific research, assist with reforestation, and educate the community about the importance of conservation initiatives.
- CHOICE Humanitarian: With placements in Kenya, Nepal, Guatemala, Mexico, and Bolivia, CHOICE Humanitarian works to eradicate poverty by connecting communities with volunteers who provide resources and education for capacity and skills building, as well as rural development.
- CREES: Volunteers work in Peru's Manu Biosphere Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) alongside scientists and locals to research environmental conservation practices and sustainable community development.
- Ecuador Eco Volunteer: This organization's volunteers engage in environmental conservation practices, assist with wildlife rescue, and promote education initiatives in the Andes, the Ecuadorian coast, and the Amazon rainforest.
- International Volunteer HQ: With placement in 18 countries worldwide, IVHQ's volunteers help with such varied projects as HIV/AIDS awareness, women's empowerment, construction, agriculture, and more.
- United Planet: Volunteers with United Planet work in nearly 40 countries across six continents to promote environmental conservation and education, health care, women's empowerment, construction initiatives, and other important community programs.
- Amani Children's Home: This Tanzanian school accepts volunteers to assist with classes, library work, and other youth development programs for needy children.
- Catholic Volunteer Network: With more than 200 national and international volunteer programs in 109 countries, Catholic Volunteer Network places individuals with partners addressing social work, immigration, homelessness, business development, education, and other community initiatives.
- El Centro de la Nina Trabajadora: Volunteers are placed in Quito, Ecuador to address issues relating to poverty, social services, and more as they apply to working girls and their families--programs include education, street children outreach, and vocational training.
- Esther Honey Foundation: Based in the Cook Islands, the Esther Honey Foundation welcomes volunteers of all skill levels to care for and provide veterinary assistance to companion animals.
- Gap Year South Africa: Volunteers work with the Tembe Elephant Park Game Reserve to promote environmental conservation and education, care for and research elephants and other wildlife, and assist with other projects allowing the organization to protect and preserve wildlife indigenous to the KwaZulu Natal province.
- Kenya Voluntary and Community Development Project: With placements in Bondo, Kisumu, Nairobi, and other areas throughout the country, volunteers may focus on orphanage programs, HIV/AIDS awareness, health care, and education in local schools, all for the betterment of the communities in which they work.
- La Esperanza Granada: This local group provides education for children living in rural areas of Granada, Nicaragua; volunteers assist in seven different communities to teach and tutor children from kindergarten onwards.
- Real Gap Experience: Placements cover more than 45 countries worldwide with varied projects including wildlife research, youth and community development, environmental conservation, education, and more--adventure tours and paid work abroad options also are available through this organization.
- Relief International: RI's programs cover 24 countries worldwide, with placements for those with professional experience in their chosen project fields; projects can range from public health, to agriculture, to nutrition, to refugee assistance and more.
Whether you'd like to build houses for a week in Costa Rica, farm for a month in the Philippines, or teach English for two years in Thailand, you're sure to find a volunteer abroad opportunity matching your interests and skill sets. And of course, if you've worked with a great service program overseas, or have a recommendation for those looking for one, post them below!